Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy


Northern Lights
Strange Mercy
Champagne Year

Back to the grind, but at least I get to start back up with one of the best records of 2011. When I was reading reviews and watching music videos and live performances from St. Vincent in preparation for this post, I stumbled across an up and coming music critic in Anthony Fantano. The reason I mention him is because he beat me to the punch in what I thought was a clever way to describe St. Vincent’s music: a sort of warped mixture of rock'n'roll, art pop and Disney fairy tale scores. While that might sound unappealing, Annie's beautiful voice in combination with her contemplative lyrics makes the whole thing work. Instead of idealistic romance she sings of realistic love; the complications of politics in relationships, her struggles with equality, and honest confessionals of her own wrongdoings and shortcomings.

St. Vincent's first single, “Cruel”, is a solid introduction, although not an accurate representation of the record as a whole. It's the poppiest of the bunch, bouncing along cheerfully enough that one might not notice the undercurrent of sadness Clark projects as she sings about objectification and its guilty exploiters. It's hard to know where to go from here, and it's because the sum adds up to more than its parts. There aren't any duds on Strange Mercy but highlights include the tragic title track "Strange Mercy", "Northern Lights" with its the TV on the Radio like production, the solemn, tongue-in-cheek “Champagne Year”, and "Surgeon", which contains some of the best guitar licks you've heard in years. And damn, Annie Clark can play with the best of them. Her fret work is the stuff of experts, and her cutting-edge use of effects and pedals is awe-inspiring. I urge you to watch her work on “Surgeon” and “Strange Mercy” in the video posted below. It’s phenomenal stuff.

St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy is one is one of 2011's best records. I still have it on regular rotation, and the more I listen the more I pick up subtle, rewarding nuances in the layers upon layers of instrumentation St. Vincent includes. Annie’s combination of songwriting, studio technique, guitar prowess, beautiful voice, and honest lyricism are pushing her towards the mainstream. And yea, her looks don’t hurt either. Perhaps that's one of St. Vincent’s conundrums, for all the emphasis Clark puts in her distaste for objectification, the audience can’t help but do so. The blogs and the youtube fan videos (especially this one) and comments sections can attest to this. It adds more intrigue to Strange Mercy and the Annie Clark persona though, which in turn increases her popularity. However these are minor issues attributed to her success, if they're issues at all. For now she's undoubtedly celebrating the fact that she's one of the best artists and performers on the circuit.

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